Discover our heritage
As far back as the Bronze Age (1500-2000 BC), well before the town of Hayle even existed, (Heyl) as in old Cornish, the area was used by Irish and Breton shipping trading for tin. As this metal was used for the making of bronze tools and weapons, the activity went on well into the Iron Age.
After the 1st century AD, during the Roman occupation, it seems that shipping was able to approach almost to St.Erth bridge, from where overland carriage to St.Michaels Mount, (another tin - trading place), was possible.
When the Romans left in the early 5th century, they were followed by the Christian missionaries from Brittany and Ireland who built many of the churches. The Irish appear to have been the more successful at this as the names St.Ia, St.Uny and others suggest, but there is evidence that Breton missionaries were here in the 4th century.
In the time of the Norman conquest the area around Gwithian had become the chief settlement
Until the latter part of the 18th Century Hayle (Heyl) as a town did not exist. It was not marked on the maps until the early 19th Century. It was almost inaccessible, as the high tide flowed over what is now Foundry Square. The original White Hart Hotel was built by Henry Harvey, on newly drained mud flats (which is now the site of the Masonic Hall). To provide a livelihood for his sister, who was married to Richard Trevithick the famous Cornish mining engineer, whilst Richard was on his travels in South America trying to sell his Inventions. The Old White Hart Hotel has now become the Masonic Hall. The New White Hart Hotel is next to the Lodge.
The town of Hayle began its existence in the early 18th century and grew to become a very important port and industrial centre in the west country. Exporting of tin, copper smelting, high pressure steam engines, manufacture of iron and boat building, all helped to make it a very prosperous place. Today, however, these industries have all but faded and the river has silted up, but it remains a very interesting town with huge potential. For the holiday maker there are long sandy beaches, holiday parks, hotels and other accommodation, parks and supermarkets. For the walker, there are lots of places to explore and for the bird watchers, the tidal flats of the estuary have now become a protected area.
The port of Hayle was undoubtedly the hub of the Cornish "Copper Kingdom" in the days when the Duchy's mines supplied almost the whole of the world's demand for the red metal. By the 1840s the spreading wharves of Hayle were crowded with men and ships, wagons and locomotives often dwarfed by great piles of coal, ore and timber. The high tide lapped the world famous iron foundry of the Harvey family, who also helped bring the railways to Hayle and by 1832, were partners in the pretty and graceful paddlers, the "Herald" and "Cornwall", which ran a fast and regular service to Bristol.
By the 1850s, Hayle was the greatest industrial port in Cornwall and whether the cargo was engine coal, boiler plates, tin ore or copper ore, everything arrived or departed in the holds of the "Welsh Fleet", the Cornish term for the great fleet of coasting vessels which regularly voyaged to and from South Wales. On every favourable tide they assembled off Hayle Bar and though most were schooners, there was a strong stiffening of brigs and brigantines, besides the large number of sloops and smacks which abounded before the coming of the coastal ketch.
The name of Hayle became synonymous with mining - related industries such as tin and copper smelting, and the foundries of Copperhouse and Harvey's. Today there is not much left to be seen of the great Carnsew foundry of Harvey & Co., but for a time it was the most important in Cornwall, employing 1000 men and exporting Cornish beam engines and other mining equipment all over the world - to Australia, South Africa and the Americas.
The great days of the Welsh Fleet ended with the decline of the Cornish mines, though Harveys ensured the survival of their engineering empire with orders from foreign mining fields across the world. They expanded their small ship-building yard which, relying upon the excellence of iron plates and steam power, earned a reputation equal to any Clydeside yard. Tugs, trawlers, colliers, packets and even deep sea tramps went down the slipways. Many were for Cornish owners, like Chellews of Devoran, or Captain Edward Hain of St Ives, whose new steamers had replaced the "Butterflies of the Seas" which once filled the Cornish ports.
Hayle remained a busy coasting port until the 1970s, with coal, timber, cement and Irish potatoes arriving on small coasters, often Dutch or German. Outwards went scrap metal, a trade that he began back in the bleak days when redundant Cornish mines' engines and machinery were sent off by the schooner load to Thomas Ward Ltd of Sheffield, who cleared the old Harvey foundry and had a ship breaking yard at Hayle for many years.
Sadly, in recent years, the port of Hayle has suffered greatly from the loss of the power station and the general decline in shipping and business. Much of the historic industrial landscape and maritime past has been swept away.